Oldest Living Creature Killed By Over-Zealous Marine Biologist Who Pried It Open To Get A Better Look

By Gabrielle Jonas on November 14, 2013 3:50 PM EST

At 507 years old, Ming the Mollusk was our oldest living creature, until killed by over-zealous researchers when they opened it to better study it. (Photo: Bangor University)

What more than five centuries of frigid ocean waters and prowling predators couldn't accomplish, one marine biologist could in a second: He killed a mollusk that had been, up to a moment before, the oldest living creature on earth, calling to mind the felling of a 5,000 year old Bristlecone pine tree in 1964, the oldest living tree.

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A marine biologist had originally estimated the age of the mollusk at 405 years, but last year, revised his estimate by 102 years, to 507. 

Marine biologists at Bangor University in North Wales had dubbed the mollusk Ming, presumably because it was alive during the latter part of the Ming dynasty. One of the marine biologists killed Ming by prying open its shell to get a better look. The biologist who blundered was part of a team at Bangor University examining the mollusk to gain insight into ocean temperatures centuries ago.

The mollusk, a species of bi-valve called Arctica islandica, hailed from the Isle of Man, near Iceland. Oceanographers at Bangor University had the quahog, a type of deep-sea clam, in their possession for almost eight years without killing it, and ironically, were interested in it precisely because of its longevity, according to the university. The team's lead marine biologist, Dr. Paul Butler, had been using Stable isotope analyses of the Iceland shells in an effort to reconstruct a 1,000-year record of seawater temperatures. Dr. Butler refused to answer International Science Times' questions about the incident.

Some species of bivalve mollusk deposit distinct annual increments in their shells that appear as lines. By counting each line, much as one would to determine the age of a tree, marine biologists were able to determine Ming's age.

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